The Maine Potato Board has announced that Robert M. Irving of Caribou has been selected as the 2014 Young Farmer of the Year.
Robbie is the son of Steve and Patti Irving of Washburn. Growing up on the farm, Robbie is the sixth generation of the Irving family to raise potatoes in central Aroostook, starting with his great-great-great-grandfather John in the late 1800s. Robbie’s great-grandfather Ken Irving established the “home farm” in Washburn in 1936, and today Irving Farms Inc. is located in Caribou, where Robbie farms with his uncles Scott and Jeff and with his father until his dad’s recent retirement.
Robbie and his wife Meagan have two children, 4-year old Carter and 11-month old Evelyn; Carter loves tractors and already is proudly planning to be the seventh generation Irving to be a potato grower in Maine.
Robbie lived the whole farm experience. “I was lucky to have grown up on a farm and to have learned what work ethic really means from my parents and uncles,” said Robbie. “I was on the planter when I was maybe 12, before school and then after school until dark. It was real work, but it was also the best learning experience for a kid.”
After graduating from Washburn High School, Robbie was uncertain what he wanted to do. He attended Husson University in Bangor, majoring in business administration. “My parents didn’t push me into staying on the farm. But once I graduated from college, becoming involved in the family farm just seemed to click. Being a part of our growing operation and having the opportunity to get a few decisions under my belt, I knew this is where I wanted to be.”
Robbie is vice president of Irving Farms Inc. as well as logistics coordinator for Irving Farms Marketing and North State Transportation. He also serves as food safety coordinator for Irving Farms Inc. and has HACCP certification as well as the SQF 2000 practitioners certification.
“At Irving Farms we have tried to be at the forefront of the newest technology available to the industry, including GPS and X-ray equipment for internal defects to ensure we are sending the best possible products to our customers,” said Robbie.
The Irving operation raises 1,800 acres of potatoes and grains. Robbie and his family grow, handle and pack all sizes of white, russet, red, and yellow potatoes for the fresh market, and distribute and market processing potatoes and all varieties of foundation and certified seed and grain from Maine and other Eastern growing origins. The flagship operation (Irving Farms, Inc.) also grows processing potatoes for the french fry market.
Robbie also is involved with the industry on a policy level, serving on support committees for the Maine Potato Board, including appearing before the Legislature’s agriculture, forestry and conservation committee last year on LD1557.
As well as his industry involvement, Robbie is an active participant in his community and is a member of the Bessie Grey United Methodist Church in Caribou.
Today’s young farmers are in a good place for the industry to be sustained and healthy, according to Robbie. “We young growers from multi-generational families are fortunate to be double-educated. Not only do we have college educations, we were taught by our parents, uncles, grandfathers to love what we do, to see the future in farming, and to be enthusiastic about the satisfaction of a job well-done.”
Robbie credits much of his enthusiasm to his grandfather, Bob Irving. “Without him, none of this is happening. I have never met a greater man, nor a greater mentor, and someone that shows what it takes to be successful in this industry.”
Robbie clearly is positive and enthusiastic about the industry’s future. He shared a favorite quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
“I am enthusiastic about the future and the young farmers who will lead us there,” says Robbie, “using that foundation we were taught by our families. Our industry offers good business opportunities and has a great future. Today’s growers are more business savvy plus we have that work ethic we learned at an early age. The industry is in very good hands.”
Don Flannery, executive director of the Maine Potato Board, expressed confidence and enthusiasm for the industry’s latest “young farmer” honoree. “The selection of the Young Farmer of the Year covers a number of criteria, and Robbie rates high in all of them,” he said. “We’re truly pleased to recognize Robbie as an industry leader. He’s an excellent representative of the future of the Maine potato industry.”
The criteria for honoring a grower as the Young Farmer of the Year includes:
— Forty years of age or younger.
— Have outstanding farming practice.
— Show growth and advancements in their farming operations.
— Leadership within the industry.
— Involvement with MPB activities.
— Willingness to explore new methods, technologies, and advancements in the potato industry.
— Participation in the local community, church and other civic groups
The 2014 Young Farmer of the Year will be recognized and honored at the Maine Potato Board annual meeting.